Local leaders push back on 'extreme' designation
Local government leaders are pushing back against a recent change to Crook County's COVID risk category that will adversely impact Prineville businesses.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that Crook County and 14 other counties will move to the "extreme" risk category, which prohibits indoor dining and limits the operations of other businesses.
Crook County has experienced a recent surge of new COVID cases, with 107 new cases reported during a recent two-week cycle. That is 47 more than the threshold for the extreme category, however, Brown had kept counties with case totals beyond 60 in the "high" risk category – which allows limited indoor dining – as long as the statewide number of COVID hospitalizations was less than 300. It exceeded 300 this past week, triggering the move to extreme.
Brown said counties will stay in the extreme category for a maximum of three weeks, with risk category statuses reviewed weekly, rather than bi-weekly. Counties could return to a lower risk category earlier if there is enough decline in county case numbers, state hospitalization numbers drop below 300, or the seven-day average increase of hospitalizations drops below 15%.
The news, though expected, was not well received by Prineville and Crook County government leaders. The Crook County Court sent a letter to Brown Tuesday morning criticizing the change and urging her to reconsider.
"Unfortunately, we have also seen many businesses forced to close their doors, often simply due to the uncertainty of when they will see their next paycheck with the seemingly ever-changing rules under which they are forced to operate," the letter states. "As elected leaders in Crook County, we have worked hard since the beginning of COVID to stay positive and solution focused. We have encouraged our citizens and frankly ourselves to 'hang in there' and get through this mess together. For the most part, our community has done a damn good job of that. However, we fear that another shut down will be the end of many businesses that are hanging on only by a borrowed thread."
County leaders went on to say that prohibiting indoor dining will not lower COVID case numbers and further suggested that it might cause them to increase.
"We are not social scientist or statisticians, but we have observed the increase of private social gatherings when restaurants are shutdown. Many of these likely occur where COVID protocols are not observed as well as they are in restaurants. This seems like a recipe for more disaster and even longer recovery time from the damage COVID restrictions have caused."
Meanwhile, Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe addressed the public on his Facebook page, urging locals to support businesses that choose to defy the extreme risk mandates.
"I'm not afraid to fight and stand up for what I believe in," he stated. "I have been patient this past 13 months thinking that things would be back to normal by now — well they're not. I cannot stand by and watch our businesses get pushed to the brink of closure again. I cannot stand by and see people struggling to pay their bills because their employer is shut down. We need to stay open!"
Beebe went on to stress that he has no power to tell local businesses that they can open up freely. "That is up to them to decide," he said, "but I urge those of you that feel the way I do to support our community and the businesses that are open."
According to Vicky Ryan, Crook County's emergency preparedness coordinator, the most recent surge in local COVID cases has not been linked to an outbreak at any local business, workplace or public venue.
"Mostly, local social gatherings are what has driven up our numbers," she said.
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